ATHENS, Ala. – Members of the Athens community, community leaders, and people from all over Limestone County gathered under one roof to remember the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
As many sat in the auditorium misty eyed and prideful, the program started with the presentation of the Flag and the National Anthem.
One of the most notable moment was when a bell was rung after each soldier who has passed had their name read. For 10 minutes the auditorium sat in silence, reflecting and honoring the brave ones who gave their all.
Major General Robert Rasch, missiles and space programs executive officer, a guest speaker said this was an honor for him.
“Taking a time like today to remember our fallen probably causes a lot of reflection for a lot of folks, but today is probably special for those service men and women that really have given their all for our freedoms,” Rasch told News 19.
Major General Rasch said he was trusted with telling the story of Athens Native, Private First Class James Larry Downs, who gave his all for his country when. On March 7, 1970, just six weeks into his first tour of duty, Private Downs unit came down under attack, realizing that the tripod was not in the ideal position to protect his unit.
Private Downs told the machine gunner that he wanted to move the tripod to better protect his unit, in the process he exposed him self to enemy fire and was hit. Although medics were called, his wounds were critical and would later parish in Vietnam, later that day.
“Being able to tell his story for the greater group, means a tremendous amount to me given all that, that family has done and sacrificed for our nation today,” Major General Rasch said. To conclude the program, a 21 gun salute was performed as the band played Taps.
Family of Private Downs were in the auditorium, knowing how impactful his story was, like the many others who are now across the way in the archives museum.
Where the legacies of these great heroes can not only live on, but members of the community and all those who visit can get to know them a little bit better.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks knows just how much this means to the veterans and families in the community, “You can tell by the people roaming around, wandering around the importance of this,” Mayor Rocks said.
A Vietnam Veteran himself, Mayor Marks says he couldn’t have thought of a better way or day to have the soft opening of the archives museum.
“To be able to support and recognize the importance of this veterans and honoring people on memorial day is tremendously important,” Mayor Marks told News 19.
The packed auditorium is connected to the new extension of the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives. Although not open just yet, after the program attendees got to give themselves a guided tour and a “sneak peek” of what it will look like.
A date for an opening has not yet been set, but Mayor Marks says, “I expect it in the next 30 to 60 days.”